ClearSpace and Arianespace Join Forces for 2026 Space Debris Removal Mission

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Swiss startup ClearSpace has recently secured a contract with Arianespace to launch its first space debris removal mission on Europe’s Vega C rocket in the latter half of 2026.

Luc Piguet, the company’s CEO and co-founder, revealed that the 700-kilogram servicer is planned to be launched from French Guiana to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) as a secondary passenger, accompanying a primary payload yet to be determined. The Vega C rocket has the capacity to launch roughly 2,300 kilograms to a reference 700-kilometer polar orbit.

The mission of ClearSpace-1 necessitates compatibility with a co-passenger for its journey towards a spent upper stage of an earlier Vega version, left in an 800-kilometer by 660-kilometer altitude gradual disposal orbit from a 2013 launch. The servicer aims to seize the debris with its four articulated arms.

Under a €110 million ($121 million) contract with the European Space Agency (ESA), ClearSpace will attempt a controlled re-entry, causing the servicer and the 112-kilogram Vega Secondary Payload Adapter (VESPA) to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. Piguet explained, “the ESA contract required ClearSpace to fly with Europe’s flagship launch service provider Arianespace for this mission.”

While Germany-based Isar Aerospace and Rocket Factory Augsburg are developing rockets that promise cost and lift performance benefits for a dedicated launch, Piguet mentioned that both companies are still working towards their maiden flights.

Despite Vega C rocket’s successful initial flight in July, it has been grounded since its second mission failed to reach orbit in December. Europe plans to return Vega C to flight by year-end after identifying the cause of the failure as an eroded nozzle component.

Upon completing the initial design phase for the ClearSpace-1 mission, ClearSpace has started procuring components from subcontractors. Piguet anticipates the servicer’s construction to begin next year, with integration scheduled for 2025.

In terms of future funding, Piguet shared that ClearSpace might explore a Series B funding round in 2023 to diversify its capital sources. The company recently raised about $29 million in a Series A round and has a sponsorship deal with Swiss luxury watchmaker Omega.

Although the ESA-backed funding serves as a valuable endorsement, Piguet acknowledged its commercial development constraints, such as geographical spending limits. To address this challenge, ClearSpace launched a U.S.-based subsidiary, ClearSpace Today, Inc., in April, marking its first expansion outside Europe.

Regarding the company’s plans, Piguet said, “Our objective is to start having missions in the U.S., too,” as “if we want to be serious about in-orbit servicing and move on from 2026-2027 … we have to get there with a pipeline of missions that are in progress.” ClearSpace envisions annual launches to establish a recurring business case and scale up commercial operations.

Piguet expects the U.K. to decide between ClearSpace and its Japanese rival, Astroscale, early next year for a British mission to remove two spacecraft from LEO in 2026. Additionally, ClearSpace is seeking co-funding from ESA for a mission to extend the life of a geostationary Intelsat satellite before it runs out of fuel between 2026 and 2028.

ClearSpace’s pioneering space debris removal mission represents a vital step towards sustainable space operations and a safer space environment. Their partnership with Arianespace and ESA support highlights the global urgency in addressing space debris risks. As ClearSpace expands into the U.S. and plans annual launches, their commitment to developing a sustainable business model can inspire more innovations in space debris mitigation.

The success of this mission will set the stage for future in-orbit servicing and debris removal endeavors, ensuring the preservation of the space environment and continued functionality of satellite systems for generations to come.

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